Last night, Neil Lennon called upon the SPFL to push back the Sevco games as far as possible to ensure that fans are allowed at them.
I actually didn’t expect this from Celtic Park.
I wrote a piece on this a few weeks back when I said our club wasn’t pushing for it.
But I knew we were worried about something.
I knew we were worried because one of the first things Celtic did was call upon the fixture list to be published as early as possible.
There is a concern inside Parkhead, I think, that it will be used against us.
Imagine a series of games against top six sides, at home, when the natural advantage of the Parkhead crowd is not there for us … it means that the corresponding fixtures are more likely to be played in front of opposition fans, naturally disadvantaging us.
In addition is the impact on season ticket holders, disenfranchising them to the max.
Equally interesting will be the corresponding fixture list, the one involving the club from Ibrox.
Celtic wants a look. Celtic wants to know if we are at a disadvantage, no matter how slim, going into the dark spell when the grounds will be empty, and it is not unreasonable at all for us to feel that way. The fixture list has thrown up weird scenarios before.
I have listened, with a knowing grin, over the years as we’ve been told that the fixture list is purely random; if anyone believes that I have a bridge to sell them. If it was random we’d not have the revolving Celtic Park-Ibrox opening day scenario. It would not produce the annual New Year fixture.
It would not have Celtic-Sevco games on the same weekend as Hearts-Hibs matches … so someone has to program those things in order to get those results.
Now that we know what Celtic is worried about, a few things are clear.
The first is that the opening game against Sevco will be at Celtic Park and not Ibrox, where we were due to play before the lockdown hit. Some are going to say this is reasonable, because this is how the system works; last season’s opening fixture against them was at Ibrox and this one, therefore, has to be at Celtic Park. But this is precisely what concerns us; that’s a pre-programed outcome, and one that might be highly prejudicial in the current conditions.
We ended up, last season, with an astonishing number of home games still to play when the season was brought to a close; indeed, we had to sacrifice one for the vagaries of the ludicrous SPL split; this suggests that we had an inordinately high number of away games early in the campaign … this suggests that we will have a large number of home games early in this one.
And that too will disadvantage us if the SPFL “computer” spits out a fixture list that seeks to “fix” that. Sevco had a high number of home games at the start of the last campaign, so much so that the SPL was going to give them an extra one at the end because it doesn’t allow for so many away matches after the split. This suggests a large number of away games from Sevco here … and so once again they are being handed an advantage and we a disadvantage.
These are unique circumstances and if we can’t find a unique way of dealing with them we’ll be more than entitled to complain.
Some will say none of this matters, but home advantage is sometimes a key factor in deciding football games, and the SPL already has a perverse system which doesn’t guarantee an equal number of home and away games. Those who sneer about “sporting integrity” are kidding themselves on in defending this system or any system like it.
But as things stand right now, the SPL “computer” is set to throw us a curveball which will give us more home games than away matches in the early part of the season, when the grounds will be empty. Celtic wants that fixture list so we can study the situation in detail … but what is certain, at the moment, is that the first Sevco game will be played in front of an empty Celtic Park, with the likelihood of the corresponding game played in front of a full Ibrox.
And that’s not something we should simply accept as if it was nothing. Lennon is correct to make the call and ask for those games to be pushed back … Celtic should not be disadvantaged in such an obvious way. But I think we expect to be.
It will be interesting to see what that fixture list has in store for us. Even if those games are pushed back, though, there are no guarantees … we’re dealing with a fluid situation here and this virus will not respect our schedule or any plans we make.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be vigilant.
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